By Michaela Gibson Morris
TUPELO – Gardner-Simmons Providence House will have a new life as part of Sanctuary Hospice.
On Monday, the board of Gardner-Simmons formally handed over the keys and assets of the Boatner Drive house to the hospice organization. The families of Margaret Gardner and Robin Simmons said they were pleased Sanctuary Hospice could continue their daughters’ legacy of service even as they mourned the end of an era of sheltering girls in need.
“It’s just bittersweet,” said Sue Gardner.
The Sanctuary board has not yet decided how to use the property to further its mission of serving those with life-limiting illnesses and their families, but is open to input from the community, said Linda Gholston, Sanctuary executive director. The nonprofit Sanctuary Hospice opened in 2005 to provide a place for the terminally ill and their families to find comfort and dignity during their last days.
“We have made a commitment to the Gardners and the Simmons that whatever we do in that building will be for the betterment of our community,” Gholston said.
The Sanctuary Hospice family has a special connection with Gardner-Simmons, said board president Lisa Hawkins. As Sanctuary Hospice organizers were laying foundations for the house in West Tupelo, the original Gardner-Simmons home on the corner of Green and Jefferson served as their offices, Hawkins said.
“We will seek His guidance to serve the girls’ memories as we serve people in this community,” Hawkins said.
The home for girls was born 27 years ago when Margaret Gardner and Robin Simmons, two best friends and Chi Omega sorority sisters were hit by a truck on Highway 6 outside Oxford while participating in a walkathon for the sorority.
“It’s meant a lot to us over the years,” said Gil Simmons. “It’s kept their names alive.”
The Gardner-Simmons home served as a shelter for girls who needed a home for 25 years. When a lawsuit changed the way the Department of Human Services handled referrals for children who needed foster care, Gardner-Simmons attempted to find a new focus for its mission as a home for pregnant girls starting in January 2013, but the lack of referrals from the Department of Human Services made it impossible to continue.
The board made sure its last two residents were successfully transitioned before closing the home, said Erin Stubbs, Gardner-Simmons board president.
At Monday’s ceremony, the Simmons and Gardner families spoke of their gratitude to donors, volunteers and staff who made it possible to care for girls who needed a home over the past 26 years.
“We couldn’t have done this by ourselves,” said Judge Tommy Gardner. “The community made it possible.”